The Root of Disagreement Between Calvinists and Arminians

ParsonsMike and I were recently discussing why it is that Calvinists and Arminians (“Traditionalists,” if you prefer) so often talk past one anothernot merely disagreeing but failing to squarely address (or even understand) where the other side is coming from. Until both sides talk to each other rather than talking past each other, no real progress is attainable. How can we do that? Here’s what we concluded is the root of disagreement, from which all other disagreements stem:

The Arminian’s view of God leaves no room for any disparity in God’s full desire to save all men (which would impugn God’s goodness and love for all men); while the Calvinist’s view of man leaves no room for any disparity in the sinners’ complete aversion toward God (if merely “enabled” to make a free choice, all men would freely reject God).

When, for example, the Arminian argues for the salvation decision to be ultimately in the sinner’s hands, and the Calvinist objects that the credit for his salvation must then go to the sinner who chose rightly as opposed to the sinner who chose wrongly, the Arminian seems to have a mental block at that point and will never acknowledge what amounts to a valid criticism. The problem is that freedom of will is not where the Arminian starts. It is not his goal to defend free will but to vindicate God’s goodness—defending free will is merely a means toward that end. So when the defense of free will leads to the quagmire of having a superior group of sinners acting rightly to save themselves, the discussion bogs down.

The Calvinist emphasis on grace results from his view of the equal depravity and aversion to God, since such a condition would require that the grace of God of itself bring the man to faith, accomplishing what the man does not have within him to accomplish or even assist in. Calvinists are not primarily arguing for passivity for its own sake, but rather, they are arguing primarily for equal aversion to God (equal depravity). The Arminian version of depravity is not the same as the Calvinistit is not an equal depravity (inconsistent objections to the contrary notwithstanding). The inequality shows up when the Arminian posits that there is a decision point just short of actual faith, at which God has enabled sinners to arrive, and in which God has left the decision up to the men, resulting in some who accept and some who reject. The Calvinist objection that such believers have earned their salvation is not the real objectionthe Calvinist is really objecting to the unequal aversion to God such that some are more averse to God and some not so much. Such a moral disparity is the logical result of the Arminian view, but not what they primarily are arguing for.

For an example on the other side, when the Calvinist argues in ways that seem to invalidate the role of the will of men all together, and the Arminian objects that it makes God the author of sin, the Calvinist seems to have a mental block at that point and will never acknowledge this valid criticism. The free will of men is not what the Calvinist is really denying, though he seems to use such arguments. His real goal is to defend the tenet of equal depravity of all men, such that no disparity of moral quality or spiritual responsiveness exists. So the discussion bogs down at that point.

The Arminian objects to determinism primarily because it has God predestinating people to hell (even if only by default), which impugns God’s goodness and love for all men. The objection to God being both author and punisher of evil is offered in support of this primary objection. It is not in response to the Calvinist’s main presupposition, but is one of those critiques of the logical result of the opposing view.

Neither side will admit what they do not intend, even if it is the logical result of their argument. And, both sides have logical results that they do not intend. Thus, the most frequent complaints are that one side is “straw-manning” and the other side refuses to address the issues. For those interested in attempting real progress, I suggest addressing the root issue as spelled out above. Face it “head-on” and dispense with the futility of secondary issues.

Ken Hamrick, 2012

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9 Responses to The Root of Disagreement Between Calvinists and Arminians

  1. It just seems to me that the real root is that some, perhaps many, perhaps most, people think that when they are right about a thing, that anyone with a differing view must be wrong. And if the Wrongs present a logical argument, that threatens the Rights, that makes them (us) defensive.

    I don’t think we’re much willing to admit that nobody quite gets it all right, as our minds are finite and the truth about God isn’t, so we’re all like a bunch of fleas trying to get our minds around Australia or the Crab Nebula. .

  2. Ken Hamrick says:

    Hi Bob,

    Is Scripture the source of truth for the believer? In the past, that truth was attacked by those who taught that the Bible is unreliable. Truth could not be determined with certainty from such an unreliable text, and so the authority of Scripture was undermined. By God’s grace, the SBC fought off this attack, and returned to a proper belief in the reliability and authority of the Bible. But now, the same old attack is coming back in a more subtle form. Rather than attacking the veracity of the text, it is a denial of the ability of believers to comprehend the intended meaning of the text. Once again, it is claimed that truth cannot be determined with certainty–this time due to a supposedly incomprehensible text. It is the same old poison in a form that’s easier to swallow, since it allows one to fully affirm that Scripture is true and verbally inspired, while rendering it just as impotent to communicate truth as under the old.

    I’m not saying that you fully embrace this new view of truth, but your comment does seem to sound like it.

    Certainly, no one gets everything right. But neither is a right view about anything unattainable.

  3. Jason Mahill says:

    I fully understand the “logical result” argument, but I find that when used in a discussion or debate, they are nothing more than straw arguments.

    For example, the Calvinists I speak with regularly point out correctly that the NT tells us we are saved “not by works.” They then incorrectly define all conscious decisions, including faith, as works. Then they accuse others of teaching a “works” doctrine of salvation when we point out the many passages that state we are saved by and through faith in Jesus Christ. These Calvinists come out of Talbot and Masters.

    Other examples, which I think you covered, are the so-called “logical results” of the opposing view.

    On the other hand, it seems that seminary students will latch onto any kind of nonsense as long as it backs up or “explains” their point of view. When I encounter this, there is no discussion… only accusations that you must Arminian if you reject “regeneration proceeds faith” and you are Calvinist if you teach the eternal security of the believer.

    My whole take is if you have identified yourself as one or the other… you will make the Bible fit your pre-suppositions to the exclusion of any other Biblical passage.

  4. christianclarityreview says:

    [Comment deleted by Open Forum Admin. Accusing Arminians or Calvinists of not being Christians will not be tolerated.]

  5. Jason Mahill says:

    I personally don’t know any Arminian theologians. However, I have never met a self identifying Calvinist or reformed theologian who would not latch onto any doctrinal idea that backed up their own beliefs. For example, I can not tell you how many times I have listened to and read Calvinists claims that “no where in the Bible does it say a person is saved by or through faith.”

    [Edited by Open Forum Admin]

    As to my own opinion, I would never presume to say someone is not a Christian because he or she replaces scripture with systematic theology. However, systematic theology is a western construct that has prevented us from being able to reach unreached people groups.

    In my opinion, God revealed himself to middle-eastern Jews first because if he had revealed himself to the Greeks, Romans, or even hellenized Jews first, they would have never reached the world. The would have been constantly arguing over the nature of God’s sovereignty, the best definition of faith, and whether or not the Septuagint should be considered scripture. Instead, middle eastern Jews actually split over important issues like whether or not there is a resurrection of the dead or whether or not you should use violence to overthrow Rome. That’s why you had Pharisees, Saducees, and Zealots.

    I think I can make the case that the early church behaved the same way and did well in instilling this with gentile Christians, especially when Paul stood against the circumcision group and all the Apostles spoke out and addressed the bad doctrine that resulted from Gnosticism.

  6. Jason Mahill says:

    Wow… Christianclarityreview… I can honestly say that no Calvinist I have ever spoken with has ever said such things or attempted to judge my heart and motives. Please, don’t be the reason that the comments section here gets moderated.

    Calling a Christian brother a liar… Can I assume you must have thought that I teach Arminianism and therefore not really a Christian?

    As to my ignorance, I am very well aware of who says what and only referenced the conversations I have had with pastors, professors, students, and other people in general and the numerous articles and books I have read on the subject. I am well aware of the many Calvinists who have never made the statement, “nowhere in the Bible does it say a person is saved by or through faith.” These include Spurgeon, Driscol, MacArthur, Harris, and Mohler… just to name a few.

    However, the issue among Southern Baptists is not Calvinism vs. Arminianism. The problem is that a small group of Calvinists/Reformed theologians insist that if your not a Calvinist then you must be an Arminianist, and therefore are not saved.

    Here are two quotes, one from Calvin and the other from James White, that many of us Southern Baptists simply do not think can be reconciled to scripture. In my opinion, these are a result of systematic theology, not a comprehensive knowledge of Biblical text.

    “By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of those ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or death.”—-John Calvin, Institutes.

    “God elects a specific people unto Himself without reference to anything they do. This means the basis of God’s choice of the elect is solely within Himself: His grace, His mercy, His will. It is not man’s actions, works, or even foreseen faith, that “draws” God’s choice. God’s election is unconditional and final.”—James White, The Potter’s Freedom.

  7. christianclarityreview has been banned.

  8. Nick Clenney says:

    Calvinism in my opinion is a sneaky way of saying the elect are given eternal life without faith in Christ. Unconditional means faith was not required.

  9. Ken Hamrick says:


    Before you disparage Calvinism, you should maybe learn some more about it. Even Calvinists hold that faith is essential to salvation.

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